Should You Take Your IEP Issues to the School Board?

I was recently approached by a school board member. The school board wanted advice on how to improve the special education climate in their school.

“We’re really in the dark as far as special ed,” this person told me. “We see the director when he brings certain things to us for approval, but for the most part special ed is invisible to us.”

Wow. I didn’t know what to say.  A school board member who cares! First, let me tell you, my previous opinions have not been unfounded; they have substance behind them. In two particular school districts near me, I was very involved with special ed — had many clients in the districts, attended school board meetings, attended other meetings (Manifestation Hearings) with school board members in attendance….and it was all a very, very negative experience. The few superintendents that I know have also made comments alluding to this same mentality — that they know about special ed struggles but just don’t care.

“We need to hear these things,” a school board member told me over lunch. “Otherwise, we really don’t know what’s going on.”

Hmph. Ok.

A while back I did a post called “Worst pieces of IEP advice for parents”, and in it, I list going to your school board as a bad piece of advice.

I’m not going to change that post (except to link it to this post) nor am I going to rescind that advice. Under many circumstances, going to your school board about IEP issues can be terrible advice. But under certain circumstances, it might help.

Should you take your IEP concerns to your school board?

Here are some things to consider before contacting your school board about your IEP issues.

Have you exhausted all other methods of dispute resolution? Short of going to Due Process, have you done everything you can to work this out? Do you have your records trail and data, have you called multiple meetings, are you really at a standstill as far as getting any further? Contacting your school board should certainly not be your first go-to item in resolving IEP disputes.

Do you know your school board members? Here in PA, they are not permitted to work for the district, nor are their immediate families. That doesn’t mean that nepotism doesn’t necessarily rear its ugly head in other ways. Make sure you are aware of who is who and your political landscape. Ask around, read their bios online, read meeting minutes to see how they’ve voted on things, Google them to see if they have been interviewed in local papers. You never know; you might find an ally in one who has a close relative with a disability.

If you ask to meet, I personally would ask for a private meeting with my school board member. My district has zones, so technically not every school board member represents me. Other districts do it differently, but you want to make sure you are contacting the correct person. They may ask you to bring your concerns to a school board meeting instead. That is up to you. In my area, many school board meetings are video-recorded on local access TV or publish the minutes publicly. You may want to consider protecting the privacy of your child and avoiding a public meeting.

Consider meeting with them even if you don’t have an issue right now. Why not? For this, you could come to a school board meeting and just offer up a compliment when it’s time for public comments. Or you can come with ideas to improve special ed in your district that are not necessarily pressing issues for you right now. You don’t have to seek them out only when there are problems and you’re feeling desperate.

Keep it about your child. This holds true for any part of the IEP process.  Don’t make it personal against any teacher or personnel. This isn’t about what a teacher is or isn’t doing. It is about what your child is or isn’t getting that they need to access to benefit from their education.

Have positive things to say. So many jobs and volunteer positions are such that the people so often only hear from people if it’s a complaint. Have some compliments ready, too. Surely not everything your district does is terrible.

Ask them their opinion. I would make it clear that you don’t necessarily expect them to resolve your dispute, but you just want their opinion. If they choose to try to help solve matters behind the scenes, so be it. But for the most part, the purpose of a school board is not to resolve IEP disputes. You can use phrases like, “My concern is not only for my child but for others like him in our district, who also may not be receiving an appropriate education.”

Be solution oriented. And I mean beyond your individual dispute, too. Offer to round up other parents for a focus group meeting. Offer to try to help organize workshops that will benefit others or a parent-teacher group for special education. Have ideas beyond thinking, “If they would just say YES to what I am asking for!”

Follow up. Find their email address online and thank them for meeting with you, regardless of the outcome.

In the end, I certainly wouldn’t hang all my hopes of having my dispute resolved here. However, as I was told, “We just don’t know what’s going on.” Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to tell the school board members what’s going on. If we are going to change the climate of special ed in our districts, we have to be a part of the positive change, too.

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.

Categories: MomSpeak